Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

“What Did I Say?!”

Posted by admin June - 9 - 2010 - Wednesday

My school principal, a former head coach, and I were talkin’ football yesterday. He brought up an incident while he was coaching. It happened on his practice field one day.

It was during Defensive Individual Period. He was working with the D Line with the Outside LB coach adjacent to his drill area. He related how his OLB coach was giving one young man a “fit!” Chewing him out; giving him “what for” because the young man kept messing up on his read. When the OT blocked, the player would drop off to the flat. The tackle would show pass and the player would blitz across the line. It seemed he’d get it right once and then mess up 2 more times. The poor kid was totally deflated by the end of the period.

My principal (then the HC) walked over to the boy during the next water break… hoping to give him a little encouraging word and find out what the problem was— why was he messing up almost every time on his “read.”

The boy looked at him and said with a perplexed look on his face, “Coach, what do you mean by ‘my read'”?! Coach looked at him and said, “don’t you understand that you read the OT’s block to determine if you come up the field or drop in the flat?!” The boy looked dumbfounded!

Long story short: the boy had a doctor’s appointment the first day that they did Defensive Individual work and that is the ONLY day that the assistant coach in charge of Outside LB’s had gone over what the “read” was for OLB’s! The boy was clueless. He got it “right” part of the time by simply “guessing”— so the law of averages said that he’d get 50% of the guesses right!

My principal and I chuckled at the situation and then started talking about what went wrong! First, the assistant coach only went over the rules of the OLB read once… the first practice that they went to defensive positions and that was it! No wonder the kid was messing up. Coaches have to repeat and repeat and repeat key instructions to players. If they are important, they are worth repeating. I’ve found that some kids will forget stuff from a Thursday practice to Monday!!! Their minds are “wired” differently as adolescents!!!

Second key, that I brought up in our conversation yesterday, is that I’m always making sure that the “football vocabulary” that I use is understood by players… and coaches! For example, attitude. Can you define it? Really! Can you define the term “attitude?” Think about it for a second.

A kid’s answer is typically: “the way you act.” And that’s true— partially. But where does that “action” originate? It starts in your head. It’s your frame of mind; your feeling; your outlook or perspective. THAT can be a “life lesson” for any kid to hear. We use the word (attitude) all the time… but could you really nail it down to what it actually infers? If you were having a hard time, think how a teenager would deal with it?

When you start using “football terminology” it becomes even more important that you communicate effectively. I recall as a young coach that our HC was talking about an “eagle” defense. I had NO clue what he was talking about! and I was too embarrassed to ask— didn’t want to appear ignorant. So, I’d listen and watch and still couldn’t figure out what happens when you go to an “eagle” front! It was half way through the season before it finally clicked!

That’s fine for a young, JV assistant coach; but not for a Varsity assistant who’s a key element in getting your defense up to snuff. This goes back to “Coaching Your Coaches”! For players, it becomes even more important. Do they understand what (for a Delaware Wing T Offensive lineman) “Gap” and “Down” mean? Do they even know what a “lateral” step is planted?!

REMEMBER: The best coaches are the best teachers. The best teachers are the best communicators. The best communicators are those who “understand” their audience. This has really been brought home to me in the last few days as I heard of Coach John Wooden’s death. I have read everything I could get my hands on that he had written— even though he coached basketball and not football. It didn’t matter! He is, in my opinion, THE greatest coach of any sport who’s ever coached! He was the consummate “communicator.”

How about you? Do you make sure that your players “understand” what you are communicating? Or do you just assume that they know? You know what they say about the term: “assume”? When you “assume” something, it’s like that it will make an “A_ _” out of U and ME!

That’s why coaching up the little things can make such a huge difference in the success level of your program!

One Response to ““What Did I Say?!””

  1. Sean Coultis says:

    Coach Lew,

    Great point about defining key terms that a coach uses. Often times, we assume a player knows what a 3 technique is, what the b-gap is, who the no. 2 wr is, etc… It’s funny how Vince Lombardi would start out every year by saying “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

    Another key point to make is for all of the coaches to be on the same page/consistent w/ the terms, techniques, and drills you use w/ players on all levels. For example, tackling should be taught the same way w/ the same drills and verbeage on all levels.

    -Sean Coultis
    Varsity LB Coach Bolingbrook H.S. (IL)